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Bedford & Strand WC2
According to its mission statement, this Covent Garden basement has recently been re-launched by some 'friends' - all with backgrounds in bars and booze - as a place where customers can enjoy 'interesting and exciting' wines in a 'relaxed and convivial atmosphere'. Hard to argue with that (or, indeed, with their reasonably-priced selection of less 'obvious' wines).
What the mission omits any mention of, however, is food. Traditionally, wine bars have served up posh picnic fare, perhaps spiced up with a hearty hot dish of the day - the sorts of creations that don't require much last-minute prep. There is indeed a 'deli' section here which does all that. The friends, however, have decided to up the ante by also incorporating a full-service 'bistro'.
Big mistake. To start with, the prices are proper restaurant prices, and the level of comfort in this not-especially atmospheric basement - paper tablecloths notwithstanding - is that of a wine bar. More importantly, the food is just not up to scratch for the money. A nearly £40 lunch for one (with two drinks) should not end with a sad lemon tart that looked as if it had been bought in. Nor should it start with a dry, toasted mini-loaf, when it was bread that had been requested. Especially when what has come in-between was a fish soup (a small bowl, but admittedly rich in protein), and some rather bland chicken 'n' chips.
So, 'friends', here is a piece of possibly unwelcome advice: can the bistro, expand the deli, and stick to what you know best. The West End undoubtedly needs more places like this in which you can sink a bottle of decent vino. But places serving ordinary food at high prices? It's got enough of those already.
1a Bedford St, London, WC2E 9HH
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lunch noon - 3 pm, dinner 5.30 pm - 11 pm
Last orders: 10.30 pm